Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Christian Eckes Tames Darlington With Statement Win

Christian Eckes, running a throwback paint scheme to newly-inducted Hall of Famer Herschel McGriff’s 1950 Oldsmobile he drove in the 1950 Southern 500, led 82 laps and won stage one en route to a dominant win at Darlington Raceway in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on May 12.

It wasn’t an easy win, as he had to hold off several drivers, including polesitter Corey Heim, Cup Series regular (and stage two winner) William Byron, and Stewart Friesen. Eckes was confirmed the winner when a caution came out after he had taken the white flag.

Friesen finished second, followed by Tanner Gray in third. Byron finished fourth, and Carson Hocevar rebounded from a late race spin to finish fifth.

It’s no surprise that McAnally-Hilgemann Racing’s No. 19 won at Darlington – it almost won at the same track in 2020 with Derek Kraus, finishing second to winner Ben Rhodes. This year, the team finally got the job done with Eckes.

See also
Christian Eckes Survives Late-Race Overtime Chaos at Darlington

Top Storylines of the Race

  • Kaden Honeycutt returned to the Truck Series after his six-race deal with Roper Racing – in which he impressed – ended following Martinsville Speedway. After sitting out at Kansas Speedway, he joined Young’s Motorsports on a last-minute deal to drive the No. 20. He finished 10th, giving the team its first top-10 of the season.
  • Bret Holmes was working without his regular crew chief, as Jerry Baxter was dealing with a medical issue and did not make the trip to Darlington. Jeff Stankiewicz, Sheldon Creed’s crew chief in the Xfinity Series, assumed crew chief duties for Holmes’ No. 32 for the night.
  • Points leader Ty Majeski had a poor night from the start, as he struggled with power steering during the opening stage of the race. At the beginning of stage two, Majeski pulled his No. 98 behind the wall, as the power steering and other issues with the truck became too much to handle. His crew was able to remedy the situation as much as possible and Majeski returned to the track. He gained a couple more positions due to crashes and retirements and finished 31st, 35 laps behind Eckes.
  • The first caution for an incident came on lap 101 when Zane Smith attempted to pass Matt Crafton and touched Crafton’s left rear with his right front. Smith then lost control and collided with Chase Purdy and Colby Howard. Purdy slammed into the inside wall and failed to finish for the second week in a row, while Howard spun and stalled his No. 9, but was able to continue. Smith spent a bunch of time on pit road as his crew attempted to repair the damage, and ended up continuing on to a 22nd-place finish.
  • Contact between Rajah Caruth and Hocevar resulted in the latter spinning out with 34 laps to go. All the leaders pitted except Heim, and as a result, the No. 11, who had spent the majority of the race up front, plummeted through the field and found himself running outside the top 20.
  • Lawless Alan made contact while racing with Hailie Deegan off of turn 4 and spun down the track into the inside wall, bringing out a caution with 20 laps to go. Deegan and Howard took two tires but those who took four were able to sail by them on the restart.
  • Timmy Hill’s great night came to an end with two laps to go, when his No. 56 spun out in the middle of turns 3 and 4 and brought out a caution. Heim pitted for his last set of tires in hopes to gain some sort of track position back. It worked as he was able finish eighth.
  • A poor restart from Byron on the front row allowed Eckes and Friesen to clear for first and second, but another caution came out when rookie Jake Garcia washed up into the turn 2 wall and then spun across Taylor Gray’s bumper into the inside wall.

The Winning Move

Eckes and Friesen restarted on the front row for the second overtime restart, and Eckes once again was able to clear Friesen into turn 1. However, in turn 3 and 4, Friesen had a small run coming to the white flag. As the leaders took the white, Grant Enfinger and Nick Sanchez made contact and hit the outside wall together.

NASCAR quickly threw the caution and determined that the leaders did not make it back to the white, however, a quick review determined that Eckes did take the white before the caution came out, ending the race under yellow and giving Eckes his second win of the season.

Championship Rundown

Eckes was previously locked into the playoffs with his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, so no new drivers clinch a spot. However, there is a new points leader.

Majeski’s mechanical issues and Smith’s wreck meant that there could have been a shake up in points. However, the two were tied for the points lead heading into Darlington, and with Smith finishing higher than Majeski, Smith takes the points lead outright.

Meanwhile, at the cutoff, Sanchez holds a six-point cushion over 11th-place Friesen with seven races left. There are still five spots up for grabs, so the possibility of 10 or more winners is still on the table. These drivers cannot assume that they will get in on points, so they need to go out and try to win races instead of just accepting a good points day.

See also
Rajah Caruth Misses Out on Possible First Win, Settles for First Top 10 at Darlington

Rookie Report

Caruth was on rails at the end of the race, and at one point before the caution for Hill’s spin, it looked like he could win his first career race. His sixth-place finish, while still respectable, doesn’t do justice to how good of a night the 20-year-old had, which is why he is the Rookie of the Race.

Speaking of rookies who finished lower than they ran, shoutout to Taylor Gray. He had a great run going, running top five most of the second half of the race, but the aforementioned contact with Garcia, who was also a top five driver, left both rookies with poorer finishes than either of them deserved.

No. 2 – Nick Sanchez (11th)
No. 7 – Corey LaJoie (16th)
No. 17 – Taylor Gray (21st)
No. 24 – Rajah Caruth (sixth)
No. 30 – Ryan Vargas (27th)
No. 32 – Bret Holmes (23rd)
No. 35 – Jake Garcia (26th)
No. 43 – Daniel Dye (19th)

One Thought About This Race

Somebody sign Honeycutt full-time.

Honeycutt has run seven races so far this season, and not once has he gone unmentioned. He impressed a lot of people when he was running the No. 04 for Roper Racing, although results may not show for it. He gained a top-10 on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway, and was running well at Atlanta Motor Speedway – even in contention to win – before an issue took him out of contention for a good finish.

His deal with Young’s Motorsports was a last-minute deal, as mentioned earlier, but he still managed to stay out of trouble and finish 10th. For a last-minute deal, that’s not bad at all for a guy who wasn’t even supposed to run this race.

Honeycutt could turn some heads if he were signed to a good team – perhaps he could compete for a championship. But does any team want to take that chance? And where would he go? Who knows who graduates to the Xfinity Series or changes teams after this season; maybe Honeycutt could snag a ride full-time in the silly season chaos.

All this to say, don’t sleep on Honeycutt. He’s outperformed all of the equipment he’s been given this season – imagine what he could do in even a middle-tier ride, let alone a top-tier ride.

Paint Scheme of the Race

The blast from the past that throwback weekend provides is awesome, and everybody can at least pick out one paint scheme that is very nostalgic to them.

But picking the BEST paint scheme of the race is tough. Several teams went above and beyond for throwback weekend, and there is a case for every single one to win paint scheme of the race.

However, when your throwback features the original sponsor of the throwback, it almost feels wrong to not give them the upper hand, and Jake Garcia’s No. 35 does just that.

Garcia’s truck is a throwback to Buckshot Jones’ No. 00 car that he ran in 1999. Jones has been integral to Garcia’s career, and remains friends with the Garcia family, making this scheme personally special.

Part of the scheme’s uniqueness is that Crown Fiber, Jones’ sponsor in 1999, also adorned Garcia’s truck for the race. The scheme looks nearly identical, save for being on a truck body instead of a car.

Even more special for Garcia and MHR, Jones was present to see the truck himself. Garcia’s aforementioned poor finish does not reflect how great his weekend was, especially with Jones present.

Where to Next?

It’s the one EVERYONE has been waiting for. Welcome back, North Wilkesboro Speedway, we’ve missed you.

North Wilkesboro makes its triumphant return to NASCAR, and the Truck Series will have its chance on the historic track on Saturday, May 20. Tyson returns as the title sponsor of the race, just as it was for the last ever Cup Series race at the track back in 1996.

For the Truck Series, it’s the third trip to the track, competing there in both 1995 and 1996. Mike Bliss and Mark Martin won those two races, respectively. Coverage for the Tyson 250 begins Saturday, May 20, at 1:30 p.m. ET. FOX Sports 1 will have the coverage this time.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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